Deal on sequestration cuts could ease pressure on Marin programs
A prospective federal budget deal that would soften sequestration cuts through September 2015 was announced Wednesday, but Marin officials said it is unclear whether the agreement will restore cuts to local programs made earlier this year.
In Marin, the cuts included a freeze on the issuance of low-income housing vouchers, a reduction in the number of meals delivered to needy seniors, reduced funding for special education programs and cuts in funding to federal parks.
Lee Pullen, director of Marin County's Aging and Adult Services division, said the deal will restore some funding to domestic programs; but it will be up to appropriations committees in Congress to decide how to distribute the largess. He said the county of Marin has so far had to backfill about $73,000 in lost federal funding for senior services.
"We're not out of the woods yet," Pullen said.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said, "I think it is fair to assume that it is going to be better under this deal than if the full sequester were allowed to continue."
Huffman said he was still evaluating the deal, however, and hadn't decided whether he would support it.
"This is not a great agreement for Democrats by any stretch," Huffman said, "but I think it is an improvement over the alternative scenario of the full sequester in 2014. I'm trying to be realistic when I evaluate this."
The first round of so-called sequestration cuts were triggered early in 2013 after Democrats and Republicans had failed to agree on a deficit-reduction package in 2011. The Budget Control Act of 2011 mandated $1.2 trillion in cuts to be meted out evenly from 2013 to 2021.
The new budget compromise, hammered out by House and Senate budget negotiators, would raise the spending cap in the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014 from $986 billion to $1.012 trillion. Without the deal, scheduled sequestration cuts would have lowered the cap to $967 billion. An additional $20 billion in sequestration relief would be provided in fiscal 2015.
Huffman said it remains to be seen whether House Republicans will support the deal. "You've got the big, three Republican Super PAC groups out there whipping against this deal, urging the Tea Party to oppose it because they prefer the sequester," Huffman said, referring to the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks.
Nevertheless, Kevin Krick, chairman of the Marin Republican Party, said he thinks the deal represents "progress." "We're faced with a House and Senate controlled by Democrats," Krick said, "so seeking what would be the ultimate Republican goal of massive spending cuts flies in the face of reality."
Paul Cohen, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Marin, said that missing from the deal is any mention of new revenue, "either looking at the very upper end tax rates or some of the corporate tax loopholes that riddle the tax code," and extension of long-term unemployment benefits. The unemployment benefits of 1.3 million Americans expire on Dec. 28.
"That being said," Cohen said, "this sort of dysfunction and brinkmanship that we've seen in recent years is really bad for the economy. I can understand why the president has made encouraging noises about the deal."
But Norman Solomon, a West Marin political activist and author, said, "All those who care about income inequality and the suffering of so many people in this country should be angry about this deal."
Solomon pointed out that the deal would also extend cuts to Medicare providers through 2023, two years past the cuts called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011.
"This is a clear instance where people who believe in something have got to stand firm," Solomon said. "If they don't, the center of gravity will continue to slip farther and farther away from basic needs."